clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Trubisky Then, Trubisky Now: The Growth of Chicago’s QB

In lieu of the season’s end, Robert S. takes a look at the struggles Mitch Trubisky endured in his first three weeks of the season and investigates how he’s grown since.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Growth is a funny thing, isn’t it?

A mere seed blossoms into a redwood that dominates the sky. A lion cub becomes the king of the jungle. A caterpillar becomes a butterfly.

Growth often happens over months or years, but sometimes a few weeks are enough for something that seems weak to become strong.

Quarterbacks can be much the same way; Drew Brees spent his first three seasons with a passer rating below 75 before exploding out to a 104.8 in his fourth year. Jared Goff, Derek Carr, and Alex Smith all took time to grow before they became the threats they are today. Each of these four also endured being considered “a bust”, “overpaid”, or “part of the problem” by fans at some point. Mitch Trubisky has already experienced those lows and, over the last four weeks, looks to be rising to heights no Bears’ QB has before.

But how did he do it? What changed from Weeks 1-3, where it felt like Trubisky couldn’t buy a yard, to now? I believe he improved in three specific areas:

  1. Pocket Presence
  2. Footwork
  3. Decision-making/Offense Operation

With the playoffs now behind us, I plan on showing you both what he did wrong then and what he’s doing right now. For each of the “focus areas” listed above, I’ll show an example highlighting a play (Weeks 1-3) where Trubisky made a mistake and cost the Bears. After reviewing what Trubisky did wrong, I’ll provide a recent play (Weeks 15-17) that proves he’s improved in that area. Each example will include the highlight in real time followed by slow-motion breakdown of the play.

You may also notice that I primarily pulled plays from 3rd or 4th down situations – this was fully intentional. I believe that this gives us the best platform to evaluate Trubisky’s play because of the high stakes each 3rd down brings with it. Because 3rd down determines the continuation of the drive, it allows us to see how Trubisky is performing in situations where mistakes have major consequences. Let’s get into it!

Pocket Presence

It should go without saying that pocket presence is critical to quality quarterbacking. After all, if you can’t effectively remain un-sacked you’ll never get the chance to throw the ball. Over the course of this season, Trubisky has gone from having almost no pocket awareness whatsoever to having a complex understanding of when rushers are coming, where the line has created running holes, and when a pocket is about to collapse.

Let’s get into some examples.

Trubisky Then – Week 1, Green Bay:

Regardless of down and distance, it’s critical a quarterback always know where pressure is coming from. When Nick Perry beats Leno off the edge, Trubisky has to both know he’s coming and know he’s got running room on his right side. He fails to see Perry and it costs the Bears the game.

Trubisky Now – Week 15, Green Bay:

14 weeks later, Trubisky reacts completely differently to roughly the same scenario. Eddie Pleasant has Trubisky dead to rights, but the young QB handles the pressure by subtly drifting rightward as soon as Pleasant gets past Leno. This movement gives Trubisky room to curl forward and break Pleasant’s tackle while simultaneously keeping his eyes downfield. He then spots Shaheen, fades back to his left to avoid more Packers’ pressure, and delivers a floater into the soft spot of their zone. Picture perfect quarterbacking.

Trubisky Then – Week 3, Arizona:

Trubisky effectively sacks himself on this play. While the pocket is a tight one, Chicago’s OL provides Trubisky enough room to step up and get the ball out early. However, Trubisky instead seems to look for a running opportunity by stepping up to his right, turning back to his left (literally running into Eric Kush), and then going down. While it’s uncomfortable, you have to be willing to take what the OL gives you and make a play within it.

Trubisky Now – Week 17, Minnesota:

Once again, subtlety is king in quarterbacking. On this play, VikingsDanielle Hunter shreds Shaheen on the right edge. Trubisky, who knows Gabriel needs time to get separation, drifts about three feet back-left after completing his drop to give himself room to throw. Take a look at where he ends up; from the point Trubisky lets this pass loose, he’s standing at the furthest possible distance he could from both Hunter and the rusher on the left edge. This gives him just enough room to place a perfect pass to Gabriel on 3rd down.

Between these examples we can clearly see that Trubisky’s ability to identify rushers has notably improved this season. I also believe his Week 17 throw shows he also knows how to use subtle pocket mobility more than some may realize. He isn’t just good at “running for his life”, he can also slide in the pocket, moving as the pocket moves. He rarely did this successfully last year/early this season, so his improvement is beyond welcome.


Footwork in the NFL is what creates throw-to-throw consistency for an NFL quarterback. While each QB’s release is important (affects speed, ball trajectory), footwork is the foundation that each throw is built on. Much like a house, an inconsistent foundation will create shaky throws that often fall off target. Without having personal access to NFL Gamepass this was difficult to illustrate, but the following examples should show you his growth.

Trubisky Then – Week 3, Arizona:

The important thing to watch for on this goal-line fade is where Trubisky’s feet are when he throws the ball. Take a look at the freeze frame – Trubisky is jumping as the ball leaves his hand. It goes without saying that he’s entirely unsupported by his lower body, relying solely on his arm. Arm-reliance consistently creates errant throws and the Bears lose four points because of it.

Trubisky Now – Week 15, Green Bay:

Trubisky’s footwork here is night and day from the play above. It’s a fairly standard play – he hits the back of his drop, plants his feet, and delivers a bullet to a spot that only Josh Bellamy can catch it. Almost more important than the location of the throw, his footwork allows him to put extra velocity on the ball and ensure it reaches Bellamy while he’s still open. Simple throws like this are evidence of the progress Trubisky needed to make.

Decision-Making/Offense Operation

Any Bears fan that watched Jay Cutler should know that being a quarterback is much more than simply being able to make throws. Being able to make reads and properly operate the offense is often the difference between a perfectly placed first down and a perfectly placed interception. In Trubisky’s case, I’ve noticed that his issues with reading defenses come less from making incorrect reads and more from not making reads at all. The following examples should illustrate major growth in this area.

Trubisky Then – Week 1, Green Bay:

Call me conspiratorial but I don’t think Trubisky ever had any intention of not throwing this ball to Allen Robinson. Nagy called a few plays like this early in the season – Trubisky takes the snap, stares at the safety, pretends to look at his inside-slant route, and then bombs it to Robinson who should be open with single coverage down the sidelines. The problem? Robinson’s not open, not even close. I don’t know what Trubisky should’ve done on this play, but I do know he shouldn’t throw it to Robinson here.

And for anyone who might look at this and see a throwaway: If he was trying to throw the ball away, that ball should’ve landed on the pavement behind the Packers’ sidelines. Either way, it wasn’t good.

Trubisky Now – Week 16, San Francisco:

This 3rd down throw sees Trubisky make a surprisingly complex read before he makes his throw. Watch closely – you should see Trubisky identify the position of the slot corner, the inside linebacker, AND the outside corner in approximately a second and a half. Because he’s spotted all three relevant players, he knows Robinson has plenty of room to pick up the first down along the sidelines. The read is so successful that you can even see Tarvarius Moore and D.J. Reed Jr. arguing about who should’ve covered Robinson. That’s when you know you’ve made the right read.

Trubisky Then – Week 2, Seattle:

No, Mitch. No no no. Bad Mitch.

While he does well to avoid a rusher early in this play, Trubisky immediately begins to stare down Miller in the endzone before throwing a low-trajectory pass straight to two Seahawks standing in zone coverage on the one-yard line. Effectively, Mitch throws one of the worst interceptions of his career and gets lucky Justin Coleman drops it. Whether he failed to see the waiting ‘Hawks or simply thought he could throw it over them, this wasn’t a good read by Trubisky and can’t happen going forward.

Trubisky Now – Week 17, Minnesota:

Thankfully Mitch got much better at making reads as the year progressed. Based on the initial way Trubisky sets his feet, it’s clear his first look on this play is to Bellamy. Once Eric Wilson (no. 50) commits to Bellamy, Trubisky seamlessly switches his feet to target Burton and delivers a strike for the first down. Notable red-zone improvement over the play above.

Bonus Example – Week 10, Detroit:

I know this is earlier in the season than usual, but this was too good a read not to mention. Trubisky stands tall in the pocket and makes three reads before breaking out of the pocket to make two more reads as he hits Ben Braunecker over the shoulder of the Lions’ defender covering him. A phenomenal play all around.

There’s plenty more examples than I was able to show, but I believe these plays paint a clear picture of Trubisky’s improved ability to make reads both from the pocket and on the run. This has notably increased our offense’s efficiency and should allow Bears’ playmakers to shine more and more as the offense continues to progress.

The Conclusion

Trubisky’s improvement in the above areas has shifted who he is as a player. No longer is he the inconsistent QB who flashes brilliance/courts disaster seemingly at random, he now provides a consistent quarterbacking platform that has become the bedrock of our offense. As with all young quarterbacks, fans can never be certain that a flawed young player will ever grow into being who he was projected to be, but it’s plays like the examples above that are making Bears’ fans confident about the future of their signal caller.

What’s more is that I don’t think he’s done growing – his footwork, in particular, has plenty of room to get better. He can always get more familiar with the weapons around him, and another offseason spent learning Nagy’s offense should make him more aware of where his later reads are when plays break down. But, based on this season’s growth, there’s plenty of reason to believe that Mitch Trubisky can become a star. His play in the playoffs certainly seems to agree.

After all, even the “terrible” first few weeks weren’t all bad. Despite plenty of mistakes, Mitch still made plays like these early in the season:

Were these plays truly flashes in the pan? Or were they signs that Trubisky’s “ceiling” was always within his reach? No one can say for sure, but I know one thing:

Mitch Trubisky isn’t going away anytime soon. He’s getting better every week, and is quickly becoming the leader a young offense like the Bears’ needs. With him at the helm, the Bears will be back in the playoffs much sooner than later.